July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
Liberal Education/Engineering & Society
Incidents of unethical practices and times when negative impacts to communities and individuals have resulted from engineering projects may cause us to question the quality of education that college students receive on these topics. However, there is also evidence that professional engineering morality and ethical commitment may regress over time in the work force. There is little data in the literature that provides evidence of the fit between engineering practice and the educational training that students received on engineering ethics and societal impacts. Therefore, this study explored the extent to which alumni felt that they had received adequate education to face ethical / societal issues in their work, and what they believed to be most helpful regarding their formal education on these topics. Methods: This mixed-methods study gathered information on the perspectives of alumni about their education on ethics and societal impacts. Embedded within a larger study, alumni from 9 institutions responded to a survey describing what they recalled of their ethics education. This included alumni from 8 courses considered to be ‘exemplars’ for high quality engineering ethics instruction and one ‘control’ group (a convenience sample from a large public institution). Interviews were also conducted with 14 engineering alumni. Results: The survey included the question “To what level do you believe you were adequately prepared through your education to: (1) face ethical issues in your work, and (2) consider societal issues in your work?” The response scale ranged from 1 (not at all) to 10 (fully prepared). Among engineering alumni who had received at least one ‘exemplary’ ethics educational experience, 58% rated the level that they believed they were adequately prepared through their education to face ethical issues in their work at 8-10 (on a scale of 1 to 10), and 49% rated their preparation to consider societal issues at 8-10; only 1% and 4% rated these at 4 or less, respectively. These averages differed across institutions (e.g., average for ethical issues 8.2 at a religiously-affiliated R2 institution versus 6.3 at a Public R2 institution). Alumni described courses in college (undergraduate or graduate), if any, that impacted their understanding of the role of engineering and/or computing in society. These courses included an array of humanities/social science (HSS) courses and engineering courses (e.g., capstone design). In the interviews, some alumni described feeling somewhat unprepared for a variety of ethical situations on the job. Most advocated for greater engineering ethics education, primarily through integration into existing engineering courses. Limitations in the work include a fairly small sample. The results provide insights into how educational practices are influential in terms of the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of working engineers with respect to ethics and broader impacts.
Bielefeldt, A. R., & Lewis, J. W., & Polmear, M., & Knight, D., & Swan, C. (2021, July), Alumni Reflect on Their Education About Ethical and Societal Issues Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36661
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